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NBA Lockout Math Will Be Stern's Challenge

At midnight tonight, the NBA owners are expected to lockout the players. The sides are about 10 times more apart than the NFL owners and players were on the last day of their Collective Bargaining Agreement.

NBA Commissioner David Stern
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NBA Commissioner David Stern

When the clock strikes 12, the game begins for NBA Commissioner David Stern. How long can he wait to get the right deal and not lose the tremendous momentum that came with LeBron and New York and Chicago coming to life again?

The answer depends on the exact deal at the end of course, but suffice it to say that the stakes are much higher than when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shut down the league for a year to get his deal, which included a 27-percent rollback in players salaries.

You see, the NBA had the record ratings it did and had such a great year because the casual fan was engaged. The NHL doesn't really have those types of casual fans. So when they shut down for the year, they had an idea their niche fan base would come back—and it did.

If the NBA gets a much better labor deal and they get it for the 10 years they are looking for, perhaps it's OK to shut down the league for the entire season. It will be harder to justify doing that if the length of the deal is closer to what the union wants (5 years). That's because getting a greater piece of the pie for the owners only matters if the pie doesn't shrink too much.

On the flip side, momentum is great, but the finances don't lie. More than 60 percent of teams are losing money and there's no debate that missing games is a good option to exert leverage on the Players Association.

But the NBA is not like the NFL, which would have to miss two seasons at least to lose any traction. You can bet that Stern and his underlings will keep constantly taking the temperature of NBA fan base as the days roll by.

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